Yankees call up longtime Hens staffer Scott JefferWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
Longtime Mud Hens staffer Scott Jeffer could count on one hand the job offers outside the Toledo franchise he would have seriously considered. When his phone rang last fall, it was one of them calling.
“If the New York Yankees call, and they want to create a position especially for me, and it’s a position that I’m interested in, that’d be one,” Jeffer told Toledo Free Press while en route to New York in March. “No offense to even some of the local major teams — Cleveland, Cincinnati — with the same offer I’d probably still stay in Toledo. But the Yankees are on another level.”
Growing up on Long Island, Jeffer never thought one day he would work in the hallowed halls of Yankee Stadium.
“No, I thought I was going to be the second baseman,” Jeffer said, laughing. “But then I never got above 5-5, so to me this is the closest thing to it. I guess I hoped, but I never did think it would actually happen and now here I am in Pennsylvania three states away, so it’s pretty exciting. But if I hear one more George Costanza joke from ‘Seinfield’ … ”
Jeffer came to the Mud Hens in 1993 as an unpaid intern while majoring in sports management at the University of Michigan. He was hired after graduation and has been in Toledo ever since, most recently as assistant general manager of marketing, advertising and sales.
His work with Customer Relationship Management (CRM), a targeted marketing strategy the Mud Hens has been utilizing for at least six years, caught the attention of the Yankees, who recruited him to launch a similar initiative in New York.
“The Yankees are a top brand. They’ve been around for 100 years, moved into a $1 billion new stadium a couple years ago, but this is an area they haven’t done a whole lot with yet and they enlisted me to do it from scratch,” said Jeffer, whose first day was March 25. “I’ll be doing the same things I’ve done in Toledo and taking the same philosophies to New York — just with a lot more dollars on the line.
“We’re used to selling $9 a ticket; they’re selling hundreds per ticket and that jumps to thousands in suites. I feel like I’m going from the most famous minor league team to the most famous major league team.”
With a newly created title — manager of CRM and database strategist — Jeffer will work to develop and implement a companywide CRM and database system for the Yankees, who coincidentally hosted Detroit, the Mud Hens’ major league affiliate, on March 31 to open the season.
CRM is basically a highly sophisticated “electronic rolodex,” allowing the Mud Hens to track the interests and preferences of fans and potential fans in order to market as efficiently as possible, Jeffer said.
“The bad systems just track names and addresses,” Jeffer said. “Ours integrates with accounting and ticketing. All the systems talk back and forth. Our goal is to know as much about our fans as possible, every time they attend a baseball game, every time they call us on the phone.”
That information allows the Mud Hens to create targeted marketing campaigns by searching customers by criteria such as ZIP code, baseball camp attendance or those who bought tickets for an Opening Day game, Jeffer said.
“CRM is an emerging area in business in general,” Jeffer said. “I’m looking forward to taking business practices that have worked successfully in Toledo and bringing them into a larger scale. I just want to help a franchise that’s already the top franchise and make them even bigger.”
But Jeffer said the biggest lesson he’ll take with him from Toledo is how important it is to have a personal relationship with fans.
“You can do all the marketing in the world, but there’s nothing like getting feedback from hometown fans,” Jeffer said. “In New York, I won’t be able to walk around and meet 44 million people, but as a staff, if we can gather as much information as we can, it’s going to help us to provide services for fans and sell them what they want to purchase. Especially when the economy is down, we want to know as many details as possible. The more information you know and the more personal emotional connection you can make with fans, the better your product will be. And I learned that on a smaller scale in Toledo.”
Despite growing up in New York, Jeffer said he isn’t a die-hard Yankees fan.
“The truth is, I was a Mets and a Yankees fan — I was one of those people who rooted for both,” Jeffer said. “I probably went to more Mets games because it’s easier to get there on the train from Long Island.”
He was at Game 6 of the 1986 World Series when the Mets, down to their final strike and about to lose to the Boston Red Sox, pulled off an improbable comeback at Shea Stadium. The win tied the series, forcing a Game 7, which the Mets would win two days later to clinch the title.
“The ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs and the Mets guy came around and scored the winning run,” Jeffer said. “At the time it was a real historic moment — still is for sports fans. It was wild. That was probably the best moment of my life at the time.”
Jeffer said his favorite Mud Hens memory is how Toledo fans impressed the visiting coach at a 2006 playoff game at Fifth Third Field.
“Here was this game, the final game of ’06, and we just had a screaming 10,300 sell-out crowd and the GM of the Rochester Red Wings said ‘Being here and seeing this atmosphere almost makes me want to root for Toledo,’” Jeffer said. “And it was like a tingling feeling: Look at what we built up. At the old stadium, we couldn’t sell out games — ever. Out here was a playoff game and everyone was there and everyone was screaming. It was something special.”
That game is also memorable because Jeffer caught a home run ball.
“Off the net, I actually caught a Dustan Mohr home run ricochet,” Jeffer said. “I’d never caught a ball in my life, but I happened to be in the outfield in the outdoor picnic area. It bounced once and I got it. I gave it to a little kid, who just took it and never said a word. That’s the only thing bad about the memory. But I’ll always remember that, the only fair ball I ever got. I probably won’t have a good chance to catch a ball at Yankee Stadium.”
Jeffer said he will miss his co-workers in Toledo.
“Our staff is a very humble group. There’s not a lot of egos. They’re easy people to talk with and it was never about us on the staff, it was always about the team,” Jeffer said. “The average fan doesn’t want to see people in a suit. They want someone just like they are — a fan who understands what it means to have a good time at the game. We’ll see how that works in New York. All I can do is try.”
Jeffer will be missed for a long list of reasons, said Mud Hens President and General Manager Joe Napoli.
“He’s been with us for 20 years so you leave your mark on an organization,” Napoli said. “His personality, his enthusiasm. He clearly loved the Mud Hens, the Walleye and Toledo, met his wife here, had children here, the whole package. He was extremely dedicated, worked extremely hard and was with us from the days back at Ned Skeldon Stadium when the thought of even having a marketing initiative or a marking department, we couldn’t even fathom the thought. That marketing department was maybe a sliver of somebody’s time when there was only half a dozen of us in the front office, so he’s been extremely valuable over the last 20 years.”
Although he’s moving on, Jeffer hopes Toledoans don’t lump him into the “brain drain” category — just another guy leaving for the big city.
“I wasn’t looking to leave Toledo for anything,” Jeffer said. “I’ve enjoyed every second from the first day of being in Toledo and me leaving has nothing to do with not enjoying the Mud Hens or the Toledo Walleye or the great things that those teams are going to continue to do, but just trying to not turn down a lifetime career opportunity. I love Toledo. I love the midsized town. I would be happy in Toledo for the rest of my life. But I’d always wonder what could have happened if I hadn’t turned this down. Where could I have gone with my career? I thought I had to at least try it.”